Classic Christmas show on strings
Ever seen “The Nutcracker” performed with the dancers suspended by strings?
In a special production of “The Nutcracker” at the Vilar Center Friday, master puppeteer Jim Gamble will make an age-old story come to life in a unique manner.
“These are not just puppets dancing around on stage,” said Gamble of the twenty-some figurines he uses in the show. “These are actual characters.”
In addition to the creative ingenuity used to bring the show’s stars to life, Gamble asserts that his production gives children a new way to think about a story they may have heard a hundred times.
“When I begin the production, I ask the children if they recognize the music; if they know the ballet,” Gamble said. “They always do. And I tell them, “This is more than just dancing. This is a story told through dancing. And I’m going to tell you that story now.'”
Think twice if you believe that puppets are for children. According to Gamble, who has performed extensively and internationally, his shows often attract more adults than minors.
“At one show in Iran there were maybe five children, and almost 700 adults,” Gamble said.
The level of adult fascination at Gamble’s show is no wonder. He has worked with puppets since he was 11 years old, and uses his degree in Aeronautical Engineering to make his creations come to life.
“I use my background to enhance the dynamics and construction of the marionettes, which control the puppet’s movements,” Gamble explained. “I’ve been able to create marionettes that make complex solo-puppeteer shows a reality.”
Yet, ever humble, Gamble is quick to recognize the contributions of his co-workers to the magic of the show.
“I have one puppeteer who has spent the past year working on Spiderman 2,” Gamble said. “Another has a degree in computer animation, and another was a refugee 20 years ago from Checkoslovakia, where she studied and received a degree in puppetry.”
Today, Gamble and 10 other full-time puppeteers perform more than 1,200 shows a year – and, not just for entertainment.
“We spend a lot of times in schools, teaching teachers how to integrate puppets into their curriculum,” Gamble said. “We actually have two full-time residents who are devoted to just that cause.”
It is Gamble’s international experience and renown which, perhaps, speak the loudest volumes of his talent. Traveling to places such as Hong Kong, Cambodia, Tel Aviv, Iran, Yugoslavia and Moscow (to name just a few), Gamble has both spread the art and learned about how it is practiced across the globe.
“Eastern Europe has, perhaps, the deepest roots in puppetry because long ago it was used for political propaganda,” Gamble said. “The study of puppetry there is quite extensive. They segment aspects of puppetry just like we segment theater here.”
Yet, it has been repeat performances in other countries which have greatly expanded Gamble’s repertoire.
“Over 10 tours in Japan in the past 12 years, I finally began taking Japanese lessons,” Gamble said. “Now I can give a live show in Japanese.”
He is also fluent in Italian, and performs shows in that tongue as well.
Impressed? Wait until you see him.
And, some in the valley have had to wait. Last year’s performance at the Vilar Center sold out, making Gamble the first family performer at the venue to sell out a show.
Furthermore, this is the first time “The Nutcracker” production has been performed in Beaver Creek. Former years featured other holiday specials, but never this Christmas classic.
To be sure, this will be a production not to miss.
“We tell the story from the point of view and narration of Drosselmeire, the godfather of Clara, who brings her the nutcracker,” said Gamble. “He’s a sort of magical, mythical figure, it adds a lot to have him tell the story.”
And having performed the production since 1976, and every day since Halloween of this year, there is no lack of familiarity with the show.
And it is just that – familiarity – that Gamble hopes children will leave his performance with.
“I want the children who come to the performance, and then later to see the ballet, hear the music and then think about the story I have told them,” Gamble said.
And, after an evening of magic and glory – told by a master of the art and his many-stringed friends – no one will forget the story told.
Join Gamble and friends on Friday at 4 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $11 and $14.
Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer based out of Vail.
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